My cell phone makes people more abstract, but God more real.
The vibrating air leaves my mouth roughly, coerced and whipped by the shape of my tongue. Sucked into a small portal in my phone, a bucket-full of 1s and 0s are cast into the blue sky to look for a cell tower.
That wave of electromagnetic radiation is nearly as impressive as the word itself, a speech act that I bandy about like a magical wand. Word, emotion, gesture, connection.
Connection. The screen says 4G LTE, which is tech-speak for “Don’t even think about it we’ve got you covered with our dark arts it’s totally natural until you try to follow the Wikipedia page.” I talk, I wait, I think. Her words are like yesterday and I can imagine her lips moving like it’s today, like she is right in front of me as the very bride who swore a blood-oath with me on a beautiful day (we were 23) and scrambled my DNA in her body where the Spirit broods and breathes life at his inscrutable will.
I can imagine her lips because I have to. Because telegraphs and radios and microphones and Verizon and Skype have foreshortened the space-time continuum, or at least the space continuum. It’s like she’s right there. It’s like because it’s a simile. Actually, the sound is the simile, a remarkably good reproduction of rough air waves, but matching them up with her instead of Charlie Rose or a Stegosaurus is pure imagination. She speaks and I hear her disappointment, dejection, longsuffering. I am holding an iPhone, but I can see her shoulders sulk.
Even in person, you can’t really see shoulders sulk. People sulk, not shoulders. People suffer. But the phone seems to amplify this distance between soul and body. I enjoy a presence I do not have.
It’s bizarre. Still, I’m not discouraged. None of this makes any sense unless we valiantly cross the barrier between flesh and spirit, until I hear love in those words and see a lover in that body. It’s all imagination, whether it’s by phone or in person, but especially by phone.
When I sit here and talk on my phone under this tree, stretching my ability to think about conversation as real, I’m conversely drawn closer to the reality of prayer. Years ago, as long as voice could travel only as far as you could shout – which is never as far as you can see – talking to the invisible God was always something of an abstraction from experience. But abstract conversation is most of my life now, you know?
Prayer is not like talking with God on a cell phone. But it requires a certain amount of imagination, and if you can believe that your wife is the voice you hear on a mobile device is the binary code used to send it – that shoulders do indeed sulk – then offer your sound vibrations to the divine presence, the maker and God who transforms shoulders into people, words into love, wine into the blood of the covenant, and these lowly gestures into prayer.
Bryan Wandel works in government finance and has studied history, accounting, and religion. He is a member of the editorial board at Humane Pursuits. Bryan’s writing has appeared at Comment Magazine, First Things, and elsewhere.